Last month we wrote about the case our firm worked on involving a helicopter crash that happened in Louisiana. We represented the family of the pilot who was killed in the crash. Our case was filed and pending in Federal Court in Montgomery, Ala., when it was settled. There were seven others on the helicopter, a co-pilot and six passengers. Only one passenger survived and he was badly injured and is now totally disabled.
We now have permission to write about the outstanding work done by the lawyers on behalf of the other victims whose cases were in a New Orleans federal court. In the early stages of this litigation, there was an agreement between all of the law firms that all discovery would be shared in both venues and that any pretrial disputes would be handled by Judge Carl Barbier, a federal judge in New Orleans. This was a good decision and there has been excellent cooperation between all of the lawyers representing Plaintiffs in the separate cases.
The lawyers representing Plaintiffs in Louisiana, led by Paul Sterbcow and Ronnie Penton from New Orleans, played a huge role and were instrumental in prosecuting the cases on behalf of the Plaintiffs. The assistance from Ross Cunningham, a lawyer representing PHI, the owner of the helicopter, also was very important to all of us. We were impressed by the wisdom, and talent, as well as the dedication of these lawyers in pursuing their cases. It was a true pleasure to work with these lawyers, each of whom worked tirelessly in this important litigation. Proving the defects in the Sikorsky helicopter was truly a team effort and the work by the Louisiana lawyers was critically important to the overall undertaking.
As we mentioned in our previous article, which related only to our individual case, this was a long, hard-fought battle on behalf of the families of the victims of this crash. Many of the key victories took place in the New Orleans court. One such victory deserves a closer look. Paul and the other New Orleans lawyers were relentless in their efforts to force Sikorsky to comply with document production requests. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of pages of documents being produced. All of these documents were essential in understanding the various technical issues in the case. The excellent work by all lawyers representing clients in this litigation is a terrific example of teamwork and how lawyers can work together to achieve a common goal.
In a public interview regarding his efforts and those of Ross Cunningham, the PHI lawyer, in collecting the missing documents, Paul had this to say:
Since September 2009 we [have] continually asked Sikorsky to produce documents relevant to the crash, including any and all documents relevant to analysis testing, anything the [company] did internally to determine why this happened, and additionally to identify any witnesses who participated in, or have knowledge of, such testing. Sikorsky has all of this data internally and it just sat on it. I guess they thought we weren’t going to catch them. All Sikorsky had to do was download its data from a hard drive. Had it given us the data, we could have saved a tremendous amount of time, and I allege over $600,000 in expert expenses. We had to pay our experts to recreate the data and the testing that Sikorsky already had and just didn’t give to us. Our experts had to do complicated computer simulations of this crash. Our experts re-invented the wheel while Sikorsky was basically holding onto it.
Paul characterized an internal Sikorsky report, obtained during a deposition, as particularly damning. He points out that the report concluded two major things: that the sill canopy structure of the helicopter likely failed before the windshield did, which is significant. The second thing Sikorsky concluded is that it takes very little force on the canopy sill, where a bird hit the helicopter, to move the engine control levers out of fly far enough that both engines suddenly and simultaneously fail. This helicopter has a unique throttle quadrant design; there is not another one like it. Their experts came up with that.
This was a tragic loss, but everyone involved should be proud of the effect these cases will have on aviation safety. The NTSB concluded that the helicopter’s sudden loss of power was caused by the hawk strike near the engine control quadrant. The impact jarred the fire extinguisher T-handles into the engine control levers and pushed the levers toward the flight-idle position. The Board recommended stricter helicopter windshield bird-strike resistance standards and additional protection for the fire extinguisher T-handles and engine control quadrants for the S-76C++ and similarly configured helicopters.
Lawyers working on the cases in Louisiana were Ross Cunningham, Ronnie Penton, Benny Agosto, Jr., Brian Sherman, Charles Norris, Duke Williams, Fidel Rodriquez, Jr., John Denenea, John Charrier, Jr., Michael Samanie, Nick Nichols, Paul Sterbcow, Richard Putnam, Jr., Richard Mithoff, Scott Bickford, Stephen Stipelcovich, and William Dodd. All of them did a tremendous job for their clients. We appreciate their efforts and it was a real pleasure to work with such good, dedicated lawyers.
If you have further questions about this case or about helicopter crashes in general, you can contact Paul Sterbcow at firstname.lastname@example.org or Greg Allen, in our firm at Greg.Allen.@beasleyallen.com. Either of these lawyers will be happy to talk with you.
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